Tag Archives: MG fiction

Marcus Chapter 2: No one there

To go to chapter 1 and follow the story through, simply click on this link

(‘Marcus’ is now available in paperback, you can pick up a copy from Fun Junction in either Crieff or Perth)

James’ whole class looked up as he walked into the room. His neck prickled, his ears grew hot. James slumped into his seat and concentrated on what he’d just seen in the office. Taz wouldn’t believe him:

“Look, you don’t have to try and make me laugh. What you said in the playground. I know you didn’t mean it.”

James’ face was too straight, too pale, for it to be a joke:

“I’m not joking. I wouldn’t make up some weird story just to try and cheer you up. I’m telling you. It is one hundred million percent a picture of Marcus.”

James knew that Taz would never believe him without seeing it for himself. It really did sound nuts:

“OK, OK, we’ll go to the library on the way home? It’s from an old newspaper, they’ve got them there. I remember looking at them when we were doing that project on the first world war.”

Taz had to admit, a stop off in the library to warm up on the way home didn’t sound too bad. He’d worry about James losing his mind after.

The afternoon moved along slowly and the sunset outside didn’t help much. They’d be walking home in darkness. The thought of it made the library even more appealing.

They had a pretty big group of friends but four of them lived near each other and most afternoons they walked home together. Tasha was waiting for them at the gates, frizzy hair shoved under a woolly hat. As usual Taz got to the gates about twice as quickly as James could:

“Hi Tasha. James wants to stop off in the library on the way home.”

She nodded. She did that a lot, it was her way of trying to look like she half-expected everything that happened. Tasha was experimenting with being ‘cool’:

“I told you to stop calling me ‘Tasha’. It’s Tash, just Tash! Anyway, yeah, the library sounds good. At least I can warm up a bit. Wish girls could wear trousers. Who thought up this uniform anyway?”

Conversations with Tasha were often three conversations in one. She’d sometimes lose track herself.

They waited for Tasha’s ‘little’ sister Nicola to come out. She was only a year younger than Tasha, and was also taller by a few inches. ‘Tash’ rolled her eyes theatrically (she was in the drama group so she knew all about theatrical eye rolls):

“Wee sisters are the worst! Why is her class always the last one out?”

Nicky didn’t take long. She came skipping out of the front doors with her standard cheesy grin:

“Hey guys, what’s happening?”

Taz was always trying to impress Nicky:

“Not much. Heading to the library on the way home. James thinks he’s discovered the Crieff Primary vampire.”

Taz winked at James. Clearly he wasn’t taking this investigation seriously at all. James shook his head and led the way.

*

They defrosted in the doorway of the library. The smell of old paper drifting from inside. Taz was grinning:

“It always smells like my attic; all dusty and old. I kind of like it.”

Tash was less impressed. She proclaimed her annoyance to the ceiling. Blaming the heat of the place on all the old people who ‘lived’ there. She pulled off her jacket and jumper and flung them next to a stack of beanbags the librarians called the ‘kids corner’.

Nicky’s mouth dropped open at her sister’s behaviour:

“Tasha keep your voice down! It’s nice and cosy here. You always make such a huge thing out of everything that happens to you.”

Tasha shrugged, grabbed a beanbag seat from the top of the pile, slumping onto it. She whispered as quietly as she could:

“Sorry ‘Mum’ I’ll keep my voice down.”

James laughed. It was the first time he had since lunch time. He left his friends looking in the ghost stories section and made his way to the librarian’s desk.

He had looked at the old newspapers with his teacher. He wasn’t so sure they would let some kids thumb their way through fifty year old papers.

The librarian was really helpful. She couldn’t let them see the original paper copies. However, she brought James over to a weird gadget that looked like a big plastic TV screen and got him something called a ‘microfilm’ of the newspaper.

It didn’t take her long to find the right roll of film. It was filled with hundreds of tiny photographs of every page of every Strathearn Herald printed in 1942. Finding the exact page James needed took a lot longer. She showed James how to twist the dial, moving slowly between pictures.

James was left to cycle through hundreds of pages until he reached November, then he slowed down and clicked through page by page.

There it was. James leapt up to get his friends. Taz got there first, he was surprised at the likeness:

“That is really weird. I wonder if it’s a relative or something. He looks so similar.”

That was it. They were all going to treat it as an odd coincidence. As if it were just a funny story to pass around the playground tomorrow. He was about to say something when Tasha jumped in:

“That’s more than ‘similar’ Taz. That boy looks identical to Marcus. I don’t even like looking at it. And did you see what it says in the article underneath.”

They all scanned through the article but the words jumped out as soon as James saw them:

…Crieff Primary Pupil Marcus Bauchan demonstrates proper use of the child-sized gas mask…

For a few seconds no one said anything. James wanted to stay and look for more pictures. His friends, on the other hand, had become remarkably interested in how soon their tea time was (they couldn’t have looked more scared).

James couldn’t blame them. Looking alike was one thing but sharing the same name was beyond odd. He needed to see what else was hiding in the newspapers.

His friends packed up their bags and got their jackets back on. As they said bye, Tasha insisted that James tell her everything in school the next morning.

For the next half-hour James gradually ran out of energy. He wouldn’t have anything to share with Tasha the next day. Then he found it; an article appearing years after the gas-mask photograph. There wasn’t even a picture. The title left a cold feeling in the pit of his stomach:

‘Missing Children Still Unaccounted For’

The article named five children. Four names that James didn’t recognise, and one that he did; ‘Marcus Bauchan’.

James searched ahead for some clue about the fate of the missing children but it was pretty clear they had never returned.

James needed to get home soon. His parents would be worried. On a whim he decided to wind the film back again. The gap between stories was exactly twenty-five years (give or take a few days).

James looked for microfilm of earlier issues and found one from 1917 (exactly twenty five years before the gas mask). In November he found it, more missing children. This time there were no names, apparently they had been with a travelling circus. Again they vanished without a trace but that was all the article had to say about it.

James stared at the screen in front of him, afraid to look round. How could Marcus be linked to all this? He was just a ten year old boy.

That was when the lights in the library went out.

James swallowed but his throat was so dry it felt like it stuck together. He forced himself to look round and found that he was completely alone. He couldn’t even see the librarian.

He got up on legs made of dough. They were numb from sitting in one place for so long but his whole body felt numb too. He leaned on the table giving his legs a chance to get the feeling back.

The library windows were lit by the street-lights outside and the odd passing car headlight. They gave him something to see by. He almost missed a shape in the corner of one of the windows; a blurred face with a look of terror plastered over it. It was on the outside. That meant whatever it was was two, maybe three, stories up.

Perhaps it was a leftover Halloween decoration. Then James saw it move, its black eyes fixed on James. The feeling rushed back to his legs but they wouldn’t do anything he told them to. He watched the face follow him, tried to tell himself it was just a distorted version of his own reflection then a hand landed on his shoulder.

He spun round to face whatever creature had come to take him. The librarian looked down at him:

“Sorry, I thought you left ages ago. Come along, I’ve locked up. I’ll need to let you out.”

James tried to hide his shaking as the librarian led him to the door and let him out into the street. The cold clawed at his cheeks as he made his way home. The whistling wind didn’t help either, it added that extra bit of dread to his current mood.

That got worse when he realised there was no wind. The air was so still the trees looked like statues. The sound he heard was actual whistling, and it was coming from behind him.

He turned his head back and forth, attempting to locate the origin of the sound. It was coming from across the road. But there was no one there. James was alone.

He pictured himself challenging the mysterious whistler. Then his memory lurched back to the black-eyed face in the library window.

James arrived home in moments, his legs aching from the fastest run he had ever done in his life.

 

*

Chapter 3 will be available next Sunday (24th/Christmas Eve) at 6pm. To be sure it gets to you you can sign up for the Marcus mailing list (please click this link for the sign-up form). Being part of the mailing list will also give you access to pdf printable copies of all the chapters so far (if you’d prefer to read screen-free).

Hope you enjoyed this week’s instalment. Please pop a comment in the comments section to let me know what you thought.

As always, thanks for reading, All the best, John

CLICK HERE TO READ ON TO CHAPTER 3

George’s marvelous medicine

For over a year I’ve struggled to get my eldest to read independently. To be honest that’s not entirely true as he’d happily jump into reading Star Wars encyclopaedias at the drop of a hat. However, with the encyclopaedias he’d put them back down after a page or two.It was pretty clear that we needed to track down a book that really spoke to him.

With p4 and the step up in reading it brings on the horizon I realised that he’d need to get more accustomed to longer stretches of reading than he had before. I hunted for books that would pique his interest but every time we simply find another story for me to read to him and his brother (not that that’s necessarily a bad thing).

We hunted and hunted, I trailed him through a serious number of bookshops over the past few months. Then, about a month ago we took a trip to Glasgow, walked in to Waterstones, and with the promise of a comfy seat and a chocolate he finally reached a decision; George’s Marvellous Medicine.

Picking the book in person had its own charm to it and I think the setting definitely helped. However, the general idea of a boy messing with a grouchy granny seemed to catch him straight away.

It was a favourite of mine when I was his age but I’d forgotten how good it was. George is precocious and empathetic, and also a bit of a chancer. To be honest I think it was a good match for my son’s personality. On top of this the granny (the recipient of the medicine) is a whole new character once you look at her from an adult’s perspective.

My son read the first few chapters aloud but he’s starting to just grab his book, curl up, and read. Last night he skipped bedtime story and just brought the book into bed with him to read by torchlight. The book geek in me couldn’t be happier, but on top of this I know that what he’s doing will make the change in reading level this year all the easier to keep up with.

It’s a simple book that has been expertly crafted by one of the greatest story tellers I’ve read. Our new challenge will be to find the right book to follow it, but I’ve a feeling that the Roald Dahl back catalogue will keep him occupied for a while.

What were your favourite books when you first started reading? Can you remember any of them still? Let us know in the comments below.

As always thanks for reading, all the best, John

We didn’t have TV so we all read a book together (it was amazing!)

first aid for fairiesI recently wrote about our lack of connectivity on holiday but another side effect was a complete lack of TV. No cartoons, no youtube minecraft videos (OK they were hard to miss, sorry Stampy, no offence meant), basically no falling back on TV at meal times and other times that we wanted to chill out. This made us fall back on an another old favourite; reading.

Even when we’re at home we read a story together every night, often this becomes a family occasion (like we had with Pugs of the Frozen north). However, this time round I ended up reading myself hoarse as we discovered Lari Don’s ‘First Aid for Fairies and other Fabled Beasts’. We normally read for about twenty minutes to a half hour each night but I’ve been reading for hours to the kids. We read at meal times, we read in the tent, I read in the car on the way home, and of course we read at bed time.

Back home technology has jumped back into our lives (I’ve found my way back on here as well) but we’re still hooked. We’re so close to the end and I’m at that ‘scared to read because it’ll be over soon’ stage. However, with three other books to go in the series I can relax a little.

The first of the ‘Fabled Beasts’ series follows Helen as she discovers that the world of story book creatures is all too real when a centaur appears on her doorstep.

The pace is fast and adventurous whilst giving you a chance to get to know the characters and the stakes get higher as we find out more about the quest that Helen is being drawn into.

It’s a book that has entertained two full grown adult-type people, an eight year old, and even a five year old (who normally still needs a picture or two during a story). No pictures are necessary and it’s been a joy to read the dialogue as well. I can’t recommend this book enough. Please go and check it out.

I’m always interested to hear about good kids books so if you’ve come across any please let me know (I can count it as ‘product research’ 😉 ). Feel free to tell us about it in the comments below and as always, thanks for popping over to read my blog, all the best, John

Staying on target

wpid-training_dummy_500.jpgToday I passed 12,000 words of ‘Thea’s Quest’. Chapter six is done and I’m close enough to my word-count target to feel fairly comfortable. It was a hard slog today (wrote almost 4,000 words) but I really feel like it was worth it.

It’s a lot of fun experimenting with what Thea will do in different situations, it’s telling me so much more about who she really is and what the tone of the other books in her series will have.

As I said in my previous post, I won’t have much time for blog posting during all the other writing madness this month but when things go right it’s nice to share. Hope you’re all well, and as always thanks for reading (and for stopping by). All the best, John

Thea’s Quest

11703059_507851296031556_3727381389049552295_nYep, the beginning of Thea’s story is already taking shape. The fifth book set in the world of Fey now has five (very rough) chapters and it’s surprisingly different from Jack’s books. This month also marks the one year anniversary of the very beginning of Jack’s (and Thea’s) adventures. I still can’t believe how quickly this year has flown by and I’m really thankful for the reception the books have had so far.

Thea is such a different character to write about. I now have a character that instantly understands all of the basic things about Fey, she’s a lot less surprised by magical creatures and events than Jack was and I’m really enjoying the fact that I can just let odd things happen and then drive the story forward. It was always fun to share Jack’s awe as a new world unfolded around him but there’s something really liberating about just taking that magic for granted now.

The new book series will be released more slowly than the first as I now realise just how demanding it is to do all of the additional stuff required of a book. First there’s editing, then there’s talking about the books (because otherwise how would people hear about them), and alongside all of this I need to go over cover designs etc. with Karen but to be honest the bulk of the work there is on Karen (she knows her stuff so well, I barely need to go into any detail with her, she just gets it).

Talking about the books is definitely the most fun of the two ‘non-writing’ jobs associated with writing, I’ve been for school visits, held an in-store book launch, joined in with an authors event to do a book talk at the Crieff arts festival, not to mention a steady stream of communication with readers through this blog and the social media profiles I set up for the books over on facebook and twitter.

The big bad EDITING job is never a thrill and it’s this that has prompted me to spread out my book releases a little. I’d rather be able to spend more time chatting about the books and doing a wee bit of editing each week than be locked to the computer almost every day desperately trying to catch up with editing. At least for the foreseeable future I think we’ll be on about two book releases a year. I just don’t think I’ll be able to do four in one year again for a while.

Speaking of editing the next two books are on their way but it is taking a while. Though it’s less work this time through (I’m definitely learning from my mistakes), it’s still work. I’m going to try and get Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ away to the printers in the next couple of weeks (should be printed by the start of December) and ‘Jack Reusen and the Christmas Fox’ should arrive a week or so later (it’s a Christmas story so definitely want to get a rush on that).

In the mean time I can share a wee bit about Thea’s Quest (though it probably won’t be out until next summer). In Thea’s first book we find that the polar-bear girl has discovered some pretty impressive powers (even more impressive than turning into a polar bear). She is struggling to understand them though and she’s having an even harder time learning to control them. Her quest will take her to parts of Fey she’s only ever heard of in stories and her journey will teach her a lot about herself and her friends. Where the Jack Reusen books introduced us to a strange other world, Thea’s books will take us on a voyage steeped in ancient magic and even older stories.

I’m really enjoying the research for these books, I started looking ahead to some of the places Thea might visit earlier this year, I even posted a few sample pictures on the Jack Reusen facebook page. I desperately want to get the third and fourth books out before Christmas so I probably won’t be blogging a whole lot over the next few weeks. Every spare minute I have this November is going to be spent on books. Hope it all works out, wish me luck. As always, thanks for reading, all the best, John

Neil Gaiman

stardustDuring my wade through a world of words I somehow managed to finish Neil Gaiman’s book ‘Stardust’. To be honest I’m surprised that it took me this long to pick it up, it’s a fantasy book about a town that lies right beside an opening into the land of the fairies. Familiar as this sounds it’s miles away from my own books in plot, themes, characters, and most of all tone.

It’s a book that’s definitely not for kids and as fun as it was for me to read, at times it could be quite jarring to go from reading Gaiman’s work and then delving into writing the wold of Jack and Thea. Sure there’s magic, other worlds, odd creatures, etc. but ‘Stardust’ was so much more adult that I had to be careful to remember to tone down the themes in ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’.

I normally make a rule of not reading while I’m writing so that I don’t get caught up writing in somebody else’s style but I was half way through ‘Stardust’ when NaNoWriMo started and I found that I needed some type of diversion whilst writing this time. I think I managed to keep the books separate in my mind probably first and foremost because of the main theme of each. Where ‘Stardust’ is a stand-alone adventure into a slightly Victorian take on the fantasy genre, ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ is a modern disaster novel set in a fantasy setting.

I feel like I’ve had a chance to play with some of my favorite movie genres whilst writing the Jack Reusen books. ‘The Fey Flame‘ is a world building book with a big villain but beyond that I’ve had a chance to play around with some other ideas. ‘Spark of Dreams‘ was my take on the zombie genre (but toned down a lot to cater for children of seven or eight years old and up). Next, in ‘Children of Fate’ we get an ‘end of the world’ themed story (don’t worry, everything is kind of alright in the end), after that we have what I’m thinking of as book three and a half, it’s a Christmas/Yule story and for now that’s all I’ll say about it.

Book four is all Thea’s, in many ways (and yes I know this sounds totally nuts) she seems to be helping me write it but overall it will be a quest, one that takes her through many of the other nations to be found in Fey, it’s a strange place and it’s becoming a huge pile of fun to research.

Anyway back to Stardust, if you’re a fantasy reader like myself I imagine you’ll get a kick out of Stardust. The one unusual aspect I noticed about it was just how rigidly Gaiman sticks to the ‘show don’t tell’ rule for writers. Basically we’re supposed to explain the worlds we create using the characters reactions and by highlighting that world using carefully described action sequences.

Ordinarily writers do a good job of this but in fantasy the rules are often relaxed. It’s not easy to build a world in the first chapter or two of a book without having to occasionally allow the narrator to explain what’s going on. J. R. R. Tolkien basically writes a history of Middle Earth in the first few chapters of ‘The Fellowship of The Ring’. It helps you get to know where you are but it’s not the easiest thing to get through.

To be fair to Tolkien he was writing his books at a time when the modern fantasy genre was in its infancy (Tolkien being it’s godfather after all). A lot of modern fantasy harkens back to Tolkien so in a way he was doing a lot of world building for all of us. That said we don’t all deal in elves, orks, dwarves etc. and even if they did there’s still a sizable chunk of the population who still wouldn’t know what these races are. As a result many modern fantasy writers still have to explain the people of their worlds and describe what they can do.

Gaiman doesn’t really do that, you simply see the characters do what they do and it’s up to you to gauge what they are capable of and to establish what power level they have. Sometimes when two characters meet for the first time it can be surprising to realise that you may have misjudged just what that character is. ‘Stardust’ is a fantasy book but if you’re expecting a big expository element in the first chapter or two you’ll be waiting a while, the story just starts and it’s up to you to keep up. It’s an unusual yet refreshing experience for a fantasy reader and I definitely recommend it (I should also point out again one more time: ‘STARDUST’ IS NOT FOR KIDS).

a-burden_cover_smlAnyway, thanks for reading, and feel free to add suggested reads in the comments below (I’m editing now so the ‘no reading’ rule has been officially dropped). Next up for me is Hiraeth: a Burden (the second book in the Hiraeth trilogy), again not for kids but definitely worth a read, it ‘s a modern-day fantasy set in Wales, Ireland, England, (and a wee bit of Scotland too), and focuses on an underground (not literally) group of Druids who hide their true nature by means of working for the lifeboats service.

Let us know if you’ve come across any particularly good reads, after all the nights are fair drawing in (I don’t really remember having a summer) and nothing completes a chilly night-in better than a good book. All the best, John

Well that was intense!

Camp-Winner-2015-Twitter-ProfileLast night I wrote a bundle of words, they were all in an arrangement that I liked and for people who read English they will hopefully make sense. However, probably the most important thing about those words (at least for the time being) is that one of them happened to be the 50,000th word I wrote last month!

Once again I’m a NaNoWriMo winner and now I have a third Jack Reusen book, a Jack Reusen Christmas special, and there’s even a first chapter or so drafted for the first book in Thea’s trillogy (though I was so tired by that point that I’m fairly certain I nodded off pressing keys so I’m not sure what that’s going to look liiiii8iuijjjjiiujujuijke).

Once again National Novel Writing Month was an even mixture of a total blast and ‘that thing that makes me feel like my brain is about to melt out of my eyes’. What’s more I’m now going to be fairly confused if someone tells me they like my new book. I may accuse them of hacking my laptop to get at one of these new early drafts.

I now know what happens to Jack and co. next, and after that, and even a little after that, so expect some mini spoilers and short stories set after Spark of Dreams to be appearing on here in the coming weeks.

Speaking of short stories, I’m also running a competition in conjunction with Fun Junction in the run up to the Crieff Arts Festival. If you know of any children who would like to create a character (either pictures, descriptions, or both) that has a chance of appearing in a Jack Reusen short story then keep an eye out on here for more details. The easiest way to stay informed is to either ‘like’ the Jack Reusen facebook page or follow the Jack Reusen account on Twitter.

Today I am alarmingly tired but happy. I hope the new instalments are a fun read when I get them out into the world. ‘Jack Reusen and the Children of Fate’ should be ready in October. Thanks as always for reading, all the best, John